Written on June 20th 2014
Today I witnessed the strangest thing I’ve ever seen and probably will see for quite some time.
First a quick summary of yesterday’s events. I went to meet the district station police chief with the claimant who was left impotent and with a broken leg after being hit by a car. Arriving ca 8 minutes late to the station in Arena, the chief greeted me with ”I told you 2pm and you arrive late. What is this?” I pointed to the man 40 meters away, slowly making his way to us on crutches. My point came across and we stepped into the police chief’s large office for the second time. He requested from us some documents, including the claimant’s driver’s license. Unfortunately, the claimant did not have a license at the time of the accident, meaning his claim may be weakened. We will therefore focus on securing enough witnesses to testify to the fact that the driver of the vehicle was reckless to the point that the claimant’s lack of license should have no decisive impact on his claim to compensation. Furthermore, driving a moped without a license is common place in Accra (though I’m doubtful as to whether this argument will have any weight). Today (Friday), the claimant met with the Old Fadama police chief and the driver of the vehicle to inspect the scene of the accident to take measurements and make a determination as to who was at fault. At least things are moving, but it’s difficult to predict if the claimant will receive any compensation at all. I will report back on this next week.
In my last post I said I had a meeting with the CEO of the Pepsi factory next to Old Fadama. I showed up on time but was told by the security at the entrance that the CEO was out with some visitors. ”Huh,” I thought, and asked if he would be there later in the afternoon. I was told yes, but when I returned at 4pm I was told he had gone home. I asked again whether there was a better time for me to come tomorrow. 2.30pm they said. The next day, I arrived on time, but the CEO had apparently encountered some trouble which meant he was at a different location and could not meet. Remembering my first visit to Pepsi over a week ago, I wondered if the CEO was the same man whom I had first met at the gates and who said he was the wrong person to speak to, referring me to the Quality Control Manager, Francis (who I’ve spoken to earlier). I couldn’t tell whether that man had been reluctant or simply busy. Anyway, I was told to come back on Wednesday next week, but I’ll return on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday if I have to. Pepsi’s potential plan to implement a recycling program after they’ve introduced their new PET production line is inefficient, since they can already decide on the raw materials used in the production process in order to make the recycling process more cost-effective. For instance, softer bottles using the liquid inside to maintain the shape can be made with less virgin plastic resin, meaning less use of crude oil and better opportunity to reuse different types of plastics.
I also purchased 10 cans of Mountain Dew from the shop outside the factory and then brought back the empty cans to see the reaction of the person I bought them from when asked whether they would be recycled. ”We just throw them away” she said as she seemed to contain a chuckle at the idea. Coming from a place where it earns you some money and is widely done, I was becoming increasingly flustered with the complete lack of enthusiasm for recycling. Anyway, I’ll keep pushing and see what happens next week.
Back to the strangest thing I’ve ever seen. Remember Lucy? The girl who came to us and said she had been thrown out of her house and abused by her mother? After meeting with her mother earlier in the week and retrieving more information from different witnesses, it seems like Lucy may have exaggerated her story. In any case, it was very clear that the relations between mother and daughter were fraught with anger and conflict, so our best hope was to mediate between them to see if we could somehow mend their relationship and bring Lucy back home.
The mediation took place at the mother’s house this morning, in a small courtyard with other members of the family surrounding the scene. It was clear from the beginning that this wasn’t going to be easy, but we had the chief of a local tribe, Isaka, with us to help convince the parties to resolve their dispute peacefully. As we began explaining the process of mediation, it quickly derailed and the mother kept interrupting with more information on how Lucy had allegedly behaved and how she had taken care of many children before Lucy who had never complained. Furthermore, she said Lucy had offended her stepfather, who had taken care of Lucy for many years, and that he would therefore not partake in the mediation. Thankfully, Isaka and Frederick noticed that the stepfather was a previous acquaintance, and so the stepfather decided that he would agree with the outcome of the mediation.
In any case, as mentioned, the mediation quickly derailed. The mother, being the eldest of the group, felt entitled to interrupt the mediators with loud agitated words and stood up several times in what I perceived as an aggressive manner. But it was also clear that her gestures boiled down to the fact that she felt aggrieved by the actions of her daughter, who allegedly had ran away on several occasions, brought back strangers to the house and made false accusations against her mother. We were shown a note, written by Lucy, apologizing to her mother and explaining that she had ran away because she was slapped by her Auntie, whom she felt was not entitled to discipline her in such fashion. Her brother said he was surprised she was complaining and escaping, saying that her mother and the aunties always seemed to be defending her whenever they had a fight. While some readers may be shocked by the fact that she was slapped, please remember that a certain level of physical punishment against children, such as caning, is commonplace in homes and at school in Ghana. Furthermore this was far more preferable to the type of physical harm she was at risk of when living in the slum. The mother proceeded to explain that Lucy said something within her had been urging her to escape at night, convincing the mother and the rest of the family that Lucy was possessed by an evil spirit. This, they said, was the cause of her bad character. Things started to get interesting.
I’ll pause for a second to say that we asked Lucy on several occasions before and during the mediation whether she wanted to come back and stay with her mother, to which she nodded and said yes. However she seemed quiet and barely maintained eye contact when speaking to anyone. Her mannerisms verged on being rude, but I knew she wasn’t to blame. There was obviously something on her mind which she failed to express. Having been told by her mother (although everyone spoke twi so everything was being translated) that Lucy was a smart kid who enjoyed writing, I decided to give her my pen and told her that whenever she felt that something was troubling her she should write it down. The time I was telling her this seemed to be the only time she looked me in the eyes for an extended period and really listened to what I was saying. Thinking I may have somehow gotten through to her, I will return next week with a notepad for her to write on.
The mother kept gesturing loudly and interrupting our attempts to mediate and we almost gave up, when suddenly an elderly woman dressed in red and black entered the courtyard. Immediately, Lucy’s mother stood up and offered her seat. It was Lucy’s grandmother. Clearly, as the eldest, she commanded a whole lot of respect. She took the mother’s seat and we began to explain the situation, while she nodded and listened to us with care. She seemed also to think that Lucy was possessed by a bad spirit and that the mother was aggrieved by her actions, but that reconciliation was absolutely necessary.We called back the mother, who sat quietly (for the first time) as the grandmother explained to her that they needed to find a way to resolve their dispute.
The next step was Lucy apologizing to her mother. She knelt in front of her and quietly expressed her regret, while the mother sat down with a sad, deeply affected look in her face. While Lucy remained kneeling on the ground, the mother stood up and started walking around the courtyard. I was told that she was going to attempt to free herself from the spirits of anger that possessed her as a result of what she felt her daughter had done. Thinking she was simply going to have a long hard think about the situation, I started asking the others what they thought we should do next. Before I knew it, the mother began flailing her arms in the air and chanting in tongue. It suddenly dawned on me what was actually happening. I was told that the mother was a spiritualist at church who was known for releasing many people from bad spirits. She was now doing it to herself.
Lucy kneeling in front of her mother (Lucy’s face is not shown but authorization to take and publish photos was given by everyone present)
As she walked around, eyes closed, throwing her arms in the air and yelling things I could not understand, the Auntie, an outlandishly large woman who had been sitting next to the mediation circle the entire time, walked up to her and held her tight. The mother then seemed to pass out and was carried through a door, disappearing from the courtyard while Lucy was still kneeling in front of the chair her mother had been sitting on. This was no longer a mediation. It was an exorcism. After a while, the mother came back out, eyes still closed. She turned her back against a wall whilst the Auntie held her and threw water on her face, cleansing her of the bad spirit. At this point, the chief, Isaka, stood up and walked up to the mother. He put his hand on her face and said some things, as the mother’s face twitched in what seemed like excruciating pain. Lucy was told to stand up. It was explained to me that the mother could not be released from the angry spirits because Lucy would not open up and let herself be cleansed. Without this, she could not be forgiven. Lucy went up to her mother with some water, which she poured on her mother. ”The water is no good!” the mother cried out (in Twi). It looked like the ritual wasn’t going very well.
Eventually the mother was carried back into the room and Lucy was asked to join her. We waited for a while and eventually the mother and Lucy came out. After some more speaking in tongue, water-cleansing and the healing touch of the chief, the exorcism was complete. The mother had been cleansed of her anger and Lucy was one step closer to being released of her bad spirits. Everyone in the group seemed joyful, even Lucy who I saw for the first time smiling quietly to herself. The mother went around the group, shook our hands and hugged us one after one, and proceeded to cleanse the rest of the family and even the QMPBS volunteers of their bad spirits! She thanked the chief numerous times and we prepared to leave.
The mother, lifting the grandmother in joy and spinning her around.
Before we left I looked to Lucy one more time and reminded her to keep on writing. We left her with the number to FLAP and took the number of her grandmother, who Frederick will call to speak to Lucy every week for a couple of months to make sure Lucy is adjusting well as she is reintegrated with her family.
I left the courtyard speechless. It became clear that my skills as a lawyer had their limits in a culture pervaded by a tradition of spiritualism and the occult. Although it was strange to me, I could still see the reasoning behind it and an equivalent in my own culture. My own assessment was that Lucy felt depressed and did not know how to express it. She decided to run away, which is relatively normal behavior for any teenager. The choice of the family to explain it by reference to ‘bad spirits’ seems to me quite close a diagnosis of mental illness. While Sweden or the UK would address the problem with the help of a therapist, here a spiritualist is employed to relieve the person of what troubles their mind. Same problem, different solutions.
Nevertheless, I am worried that Lucy will continue to suffer. She seemed to have her doubts about the whole exorcism and it seemed to me that she was still somewhat troubled when we left. Whether it was due to her family or something else she was experiencing is difficult to know. I can only hope that the pen I left behind will allow her to better express herself and let her pour her emotions, or ‘bad spirits’, onto paper, whereby she and her family may better understand why she feels the way she does. Should this fail, she still has FLAP to rely on should anything else happens.
Today concludes my formal internship with FLAP, but my work is far from over. Next week I will continue surveying buildings electrified by Energy for Old Fadama and look at ways for FLAP to improve its services and internal structure. But first, the weekend to rest.